Wednesday, August 31, 2011

In Taipei

Had a great flight from Saigon to Taipei.  At only 3 1/2 hours it was the shortest flight I've been on in a while.  Australia is very far from everything, a fact you can appreciate only after trying to get somewhere else.  Saigon: 9 hours.  Taipei 9 hours.  San Francisco: 14 or so hours.  And so it goes.  

It is very hot and humid in Taipei at the moment, more so than Vietnam.  Unlike the clouds of yesterday the sun is full and thus it is almost intolerable.  After a long walk at 7 AM it is now time to hang around indoors until it cools later tonight.  Last night I went for a walk with Allan Wong, an Australian Jesuit who will be in Taiwan for the next year or so.  Allan and I met at the Lunar New Year Mass in North Sydney several months ago, just before he came to Taiwan.  I promised to take him out to dinner but didn't realize it would be so convenient since he is in the same community.  Will do so tomorrow.   We walked down by the river and discovered some improvements that will drive me there tonight with camera and tripod.  Some fantastic night time photography potential.  

Below are some more photos from Vietnam with descriptions.  

Scholastics at afternoon recreation.   They have an interesting rule: kicking the ball over the net ala soccer counts.  
This was my driver for the trip from the scholasticate to the novitiate.  Yes, I wore a helmet (a law for motorcycles/scooters but never worn on bicycles). 
The Vietnamese novices.  One of the highlights of the week was speaking with them for an hour about the Exercises, the meaning of tertianship, and answering their questions.  The eighteen primi began the long retreat yesterday.  
These may look like a close-up of mints.  They are rubber balls in a net enclosure at a kindergarten in the Delta run by the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres. 
Helping to put away chairs at the kindergarten.  The day was over and he was waiting for his mom. 
Reflective self-portrait at the kindergarten. 
A real treat.  Water from a coconut freshly cut from the tree at one of the sisters' family home.  No matter how hot it is outside the coco water is always cool.  
Boats along the coast at low tide.  The water was about 1/2 mile away during low tide.  These colorful fishing boats, where some of the men live, were sitting on wet sand waiting for the tide.  I took several hundred photos here.  More to appear later. 

+Fr. Jack

Monday, August 29, 2011

This will be short.  Must pack to leave for Taiwan tomorrow morning at 11.  Have to repack everything.  However, the weekend in the Mekong Delta was among one of the most amazing and emotionally draining of the tertianship.  Though tertianship officially ended two weeks ago it is obvious that it is continuing.  This morning I spent an hour with the 28 novices in the Vietnamese province, speaking with them and answering questions.  It was encouraging to see so many young men in love with Jesus and preparing to pronounce vows in the Society.  The 18 first year novices will begin their long retreat on Wednesday.  Keep them in your prayers.  A photo will follow once I get them downloaded, a process that will take several hours given the volume. 

The shots below are from where I spent 25 to 27 August in the Mekong Delta with the Sisters of St Paul of Chartres.  The captions are self-explanatory.  I spent over two hours standing on the roof of the boat taking photo after photo as we cruised on smaller and smaller waterways, stopping to visit Catholic families along the way.  Not always great light but subject matter beyond compare.  The Mekong River is huge.  We crossed it when I took the shot of the homes from a moving car.  The ones at river level were on Saturday not too far from the bridge.  In the photo  with the group (John took it) I am holding a sweet potato.  We are standing in front of one of the men's homes.  The man on the right  was our driver for three days.  He has nerves more steely than a neurosurgeon.  No American should even think of driving anything on the roads here.  Trust me.  We stopped at the Buddhist Temple on the way home.  The young nuns dancing are dancing not for me (though 65 of them sang happy birthday at breakfast on Saturday) but for the Mother Provincial's feastday on 28 August.  

Utterly amazing weekend that I will be emotionally unpacking for months. 

More later.  Gotta pack to head to Taiwan tomorrow. 

+ Fr. Jack, SJ

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ho Chi Minh City and Thoughts on Letting Go

At the moment I'm taking it a bit easy while awaiting a friend's arrival.  Yesterday I went out twice to take photos.  The two hours in the morning were very productive.  The afternoon would have been had the thunder not started along with a few drops.  I was about 15 minutes from the house.  As it turned out I could have stayed out about 45 minutes longer but then the skies opened up with thunder, lighting, and pouring driving rain.  The storm continued for hours.  As one of the men explained.  The north of Vietnam has four seasons.  The south has two: rainy and not. We are in rainy.  

Today, 24 August is my 14th anniversary of entering the Society.  A few thoughts below before the photos which will include an illustrated guide to crossing the streets during morning rush hour in Ho Chi Minh City.

Letting Go.

How do any of us make transitions through the course of our lives?  How often has anyone who has reached 45 or 60 or older had to let go of the familiar in order to change, in order to move forward or to cope with a new reality that may be determined by illness, disability, or the death of someone, a job promotion requiring a long distance move, or even the birth of a child, a joyous event that entails both gain and loss, the latter of which is only discussed in whispers?  

In the glow of being one week out of tertianship and on the 14th anniversary of entering religious life, my morning meditation turned to the image of the trapeze artist, an image suggested in Henri Nouwen’s book Turn My Mourning Into Dancing where he considers trapeze artists in the circus.  As I was reading it hit me that fourteen years ago I did the biggest release maneuver of my life by walking into the Arrupe House novitiate in Jamaica Plane, MA at 3:00 PM that afternoon. Everything that was familiar and easy was gone:  practice, house on ten acres, Ford Bronco (still miss it), my sense of who I was and what I did.  In retrospect it seems that one of the most difficult aspects of novitiate was not having a job description, a role with which to identify.  Novice is an amorphous job description at best, especially since until 7 August I was professor and physician.   

I was caught in very strong hands but the arc of the release, the time suspended in mid-air with nothing but gravity below me, was measured not in the few seconds of the trapeze artist’s release at the circus but in terms of years.  At times it feels as is I am still repeating that release despite God’s firm grasp on my wrists, a grasp that has never weakened. 

I think St. Ignatius would understand the feeling.  In the Principle and Foundation he wrote about the release as indifference.  Indifference to health vs. sickness, a long life vs. a short life, wealth vs. poverty and so on.  For most of us, life is a combination of all of the above and then “some”, “some” being unique to us, known only to us and to God.  The secret fears and anger, the indescribable joys, the moments of secure repose and those of agitated anguish.  Though none of us is confronted with release moves on a daily basis they do recur during life.  Choosing to marry.  Realizing that one must leave a relationship.  Making a big career change.  Retiring.  Finally getting serious about quitting smoking.  Choosing to end chemotherapy.  And the final release when we move from life to eternal life.  That is the only one over which we have no control, the only one when we can't say, 'just a second'.

Fourteen years and counting. 
The following are mostly street scenes from yesterday morning in District 3 which is the location of the Jesuit house.   The first shows the steady stream of motor cycles and scooters coming into the courtyard.  No, it is not free parking.  They are picking up their parking tickets at the gate.  Pay at the end of the day. 

I won't even try to give the street name as I don't have a Vietnamese keyboard.  Or any knowledge of Vietnamese for that matter.  

The next two show two scenes along a canal about 1/2 mile from the house.  The man fascinated me.  I was looking out and noticed him walking when he stopped and reached into his pocket for what looked like a cell phone.  The other is the scene from the same bridge on the opposite side of the street.

Moon festival decorations.  I cannot wait to get to Taipei to eat some moon cakes.  A small piece goes a long way as they are dense.  The festival is similar to U.S. Thanksgiving.  It too is marked by travel and huge traffic jams. 
Here is a street vendor setting up for her work. 
A man repairing a wheel on the sidewalk. 
A woman pushing her fruit cart in the middle of traffic (more on traffic in a moment). 
There were multiple markets on the narrow side streets jutting off the main drag.  The motor cycles came down those too.  This vendor is sitting hear her produce. 


Find and older woman who looks experienced but isn't on a walker or crutches.  If she is carrying something so much the better.  Look casual.  Try not to whimper as the traffic whizzes by.

Pretend you are with her but just behind.  Try not to look like a stalker or potential mugger.  Remember, you are a guest here, a foreigner who may have serious trouble communicating.  Your passport is back in your room.  Your driver's license has just expired.  Follow cautiously.  Let her do the looking.  Fix your gaze on her hat. 

You are standing in the middle of traffic which is zooming around you on both sides and doesn't care.  Stay close to grandma.  Do not panic.  Do not scream MOMMMMMMY! and grab her hand.  Keep walking at a steady pace gaze fixed on her hat.  The cyclists see you.  They will adjust.  Keep telling yourself that.  And begin "O my God, I am heartily sorry . . 

I have actually waited on street corners until someone else was crossing so I could, in Tour de France terminology, sit in their draft.  They are the experts I am merely a foreigner who has no clue.  Humility comes in many varieties. 

Thanks Grandma.  You got me across again. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ

Monday, August 22, 2011

Yes, We Have Internet.

The trip to Saigon from Sydney was terrific.  Easy flight to Darwin and, after a two-hour layover, got on a plane for Ho Chi Minh City.  And had three seats to myself.  When the three American tertians left Sydney the temp was 55 F.  When I got off the plane in Ho Chi Minh it was mid-80's and steamy.  

Sunday was a rest day of sorts.  Because I slept through the 5:45 AM community Mass I celebrated alone later in the afternoon.  At lunch time, Anthony Ba, SJ, a regent, took me to buy a converter for the electrical outlets and for pho, Vietnamese noodle soup that is one of the best foods in the world.  I thought of going for a walk with the camera in the late afternoon but the skies opened up.  From the looks of things they are going to do so again in about an hour.  Thus I will post some photos with commentary. 

I left the house this morning about 9 to walk to the Cathedral of Notre Dame.  By the time I returned I was a bit dry internally with a blue shirt that had changed from light to dark.  

Without further delay here are the photos and some explanations. 

This is the entrance courtyard of the Jesuit community taken from the hall on the way to my room 
The kitchen/dining room of the community  
This is the other side of the kitchen.  Those little bananas are like biting into sugar cubes. Last
night three of us had dinner together (Sunday is catch-as-catch-can).  There was grapefruit, my least favorite fruit on earth, at desert.  Well, this is grapefruit unlike anything I've ever tasted in the States.  No need for anything on top to kill the sourness.  There was also a black sesame seed food that was about the texture of partially set Jello.  It was great. 
The community chapel.  Mass is celebrated and attended barefoot with one's shoes left outside the door.  Given that I almost never wear shoes indoors Asia is my kind of place. There is something deeply satisfying about celebrating Mass standing on cool hardwood in bare feet.  
Motor scooters are ubiquitous in Ho Chi Minh City.  If all the scooters were cars the town would be in perpetual gridlock.  This is the courtyard now filled with motor scooters owned by people who work  next door.  These parking lots are all over the place.
This is morning rush hour.  Crossing the street here is a challenge.  The best advice anyone has ever given me about crossing a street in Asia is DO NOT MAKE ANY SUDDEN MOVES OR STOP.  The cyclists will adapt to your movement.  The only time I almost got hit by a car in Taipei was when I forgot myself and started to dash across the street.  Walk determinedly with eyes straight ahead.  Love the kid in the front.  

The next shots are the Cathedral of Notre Dame.  The photographer in me was not happy that access is restricted to the back.  The priest, however, was pleased.  No short-shorts halter-top clad tourists wandering around as is too true in the U.S.  There is an air of reverence here that is absent in tourist-spot American cathedrals (it is impossible to pray in St. Patrick's in New York).  The second is the main altar.  There was a high barrier that allowed me to rest the camera to take a time exposure.  The third is a Marian shrine at the back and the last is the large statue of Mary in the circle in front of the cathedral. 

Unlike the U.S. there is no big "reveal" at a wedding.  Couples have photos taken in their costumes before the wedding and display one or two large ones at the wedding.  These are three Vietnamese women who were having photos taken in front of and around the cathedral. I sincerely hope I never see the dress bride #1 is wearing approaching the altar if I'm officiating.   Is her name Gypsy Rose Pham?

Two high school girls from Marie Curie Academy in their school uniforms.  
Finally.  Home.  
The weather is definitely going to deteriorate into a late afternoon thunder storm.  Good evening to do some reading. 
+Fr. Jack

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Longest Hour

OK.  The room really is pristine now.  The suitcases are by the main entrance.  Only the computer is plugged  in.  The taxi arrives in an hour.  That is the problem.  Waiting.   It is like being back in sixth grade the day summer vacation was to begin.  Talk about the longest day of the year.  That is how this hour seems to be passing..   By Monday only one or two men will remain in the house.  By 1 September all the men will have returned home or at least be on the way.  At that point the tertianship in Pymble will be ended.  After a year long hiatus it will be reestablished in Melbourne.  

The weather has improved dramatically since yesterday when the wind was fierce with intermittent downpours.  Though the same was predicted for today it is partly cloudy with blue skies and a bit of a breeze.  Temp is in the mid-50's.  When I get to Viet Nam in about 14 hours the temp will be in the mid-90's.  It was a challenge dressing.  Layers.  

The tertianship experience was a good one.  Much of what I got out of it depended on what I put into it.  The highlights were the long retreat which is a separate experience on its own pinnacle.  The two experiments in Warrnambool and Port Lincoln were also highlights.  They were very different.  Can't really compare them one against the other.  There were one or two low points but they will remain unmentioned.  The consolations outnumbered the desolations by a large factor.  

Time to turn off the computer and get it into the brief case along with the cameras.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ  

Thursday, August 18, 2011

On the Road Again

And again.  And again. 
Am almost finished packing.  Quick load of wash later and that should do it.  I don’t think luggage weight is going to be a problem.  I came here with some things I knew I would leave behind.  Didn’t buy much while here.  Tomorrow at 1 PM Aussie time (Friday 11 PM on the east coast) I’ll take off for Ho Chi Minh City by way of Darwin.  It is going to be a long day with a ten hour flight plus layover.  After ten days in Vietnam it is off to Taipei for a bit over a week and then back to the States.   When I do get back home any man interfering with my ability to watch some NCAA Division I Football in the TV room (gotta say it:   WE ARE . . . PENN STATE) will be at risk of serious harm or injury.  I’m jonesing.

The trip to Viet Nam should be interesting.  From arrival to 25 August I will stay in a Jesuit house in the city near the French-built cathedral.  I can have a few days to wander around alone and shoot photos.  One of the other tertians, John The (pronounced more or less tay), who entered the Society in Germany, is going to arrive on 24 August.  On 25 August he is taking me on a three-day trip to the Mekong Delta.  We will stay with a community of nuns (religious life is like belonging to the universe's largest private bed and breakfast association).  From the Delta we will return to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) and I will move out to the scholasticate, the house for young Jesuits, of which there are many in Viet Nam.  I knew the provincial when we were in theology together and will thus have a chance to see him.  After three days there I will make the short (3 ½ hours) flight to Taipei.  Taipei, one of my favorite places on earth, is like visiting home.  I am self-sufficient on the subway and some of the buses.    

I don’t know if I will have time or internet access to post photos while in Viet Nam.  In Taipei there will be both time and good internet access so I will do so from there if not sooner.  It has been a good tertianship but I am happy it is over.  I left the U.S. on 27 December and, while I’ve been out of the country for up to a year at a time in the past, it is time to go home.

Attached (of course) are a few photos that I found  while editing the still-too-large-number.  

The first is a reminder to take the photo when you can.  This is a gate at Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan.  I took this in 2008.  When Ignatius and I went back there in January I wanted to take a few more views.  Its gone.  It has been replaced by an ugly concrete barricade. 
Though I would like to go back to Sun Moon Lake in two weeks it is time to see something else.   I've been there a few times.  Perhaps on the next trip.  The next is a shot of Sun Moon Lake, one of the truly beautiful spots in Taiwan. 
Speaking of  beautiful spots.  This is one of the vines at Sevenhill.  Lent seems long ago. 
One of the things I like to photograph is reflections in mirrors or windows.  This is near the Victoria Market in Melbourne at the end of Royal Parade.  It is a rather confusing intersection to cross, especially for a Yankee who is never sure from what directions the cars are approaching. 
Students don't change the world over.  Coffee shop equals study hall.  This is at the University of Melbourne.   As much as I loved being an undergrad at Penn State I wouldn't want to do it now.   Being on the cusp of old age is not a bad thing.  
And finally my room as packing is almost done.  Actually it is the camera angle.  There is an absolute disaster in the unseen corners and in the wardrobe.  
+Fr. Jack